Seattle's fire crisis: Fourth blaze hits vacant building in a week

A fire that broke out at midnight has continued to burn for over 16 hours, leaving a heavy layer of gray smoke hanging over an empty building in the Chinatown-International District.

The fire that consumed the former Viet-Wah Supermarket has led to the closure of Jackson St, causing significant disruptions, including halting the streetcar service. According to the fire department, the city slated it for demolition this past fall.

More than 80 firefighters were deployed to combat the blaze, which sent thick black smoke visible from miles away.

"I remember going there on the weekends, shopping with my mom when I was a kid. It was one of our only large grocery stores in the Chinatown-International District," said Seattle City Council member Tanya Woo. "They ended up closing during the pandemic because they were experiencing $10,000 dollars worth of theft every single month, and they just could not survive."

This fire is part of a disturbing pattern. The now derelict structure is one of four vacant buildings that have caught fire in Seattle over the past week. Last Thursday, a duplex in Judkins Park went up in flames, and two days earlier, fire engulfed two structures in the Roosevelt neighborhood, resulting in one fatality and several injuries.

This tragedy was acknowledged by Council member Tammy Morales, who co-sponsored an ordinance granting the fire department authority to demolish problematic properties at the owner's expense.

"These buildings represent a safety risk to the communities they’re located in, and the general public," Morales told fellow council members. 

"We’ve seen a surge in vacant building fires across the city in recent years, rising almost 70% between 2021 and 2023" said co-sponsor, council member Bob Kettle. That’s why I’m grateful the Council and Mayor Harrell passed legislation last week to address this pressing issue. We can’t be reactive. We have to be proactive. This law is not only proactive, it will save lives."

Council member Woo emphasized that not all property owners neglect their buildings intentionally.

"My family’s historical building caught on fire, and it sat empty for two years before we were able to redevelop it," said Woo.

Woo called for thoughtful measures to ensure property owners, especially in under-resourced communities like the Chinatown-International District, are not forced to sell their properties. "We need to make sure we do it thoughtfully, so we’re not forcing property owners to have to sell," said Woo. "Making sure they’re working towards a solution instead of letting it sit there."


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